In This Article
Gluten and Diabetes
According to the World Health Organization’s first Global Report on Diabetes published in 2016, the number of adults living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled since 1980, affecting around 433 million adults worldwide. This mind-blowing increase can be largely attributed to the increased incidence of type 2 diabetes (the preventable type) and the factors that drive it, including belly fat and cognitive decline.
Using the well-established link between type 2 diabetes, belly fat and cognitive decline, those promoting the gluten-free industry (a 16 billion-dollar-per-year industry now!) have convinced some 40 million Americans that wheat is the new poison and it should be cut out of a healthy diet. Ever heard the terms “wheat belly” or “grain brain”? These terms mistakenly imply that wheat is the culprit behind these factors.
Amidst this gluten-free craze, Harvard researchers decided to dive in to look for solid links between gluten consumption and health outcomes. They gathered data from 3 long-term studies on almost 200,000 people. Study participants filled out food-frequency questionnaires every two years and had their health monitored regularly. Over roughly 30 years, more than 15,000 participants were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
After analyzing the data, researchers found strong evidence that a high-gluten diet LOWERS the risk of type 2 diabetes, and a low-gluten diet INCREASES the risk of heart disease. (3,4)
An Inverse Association
In fact, diets rich in whole grains, whole grain fiber and whole wheat have been found again and again to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. (1,2,5,6)
If whole wheat actually did increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, the extrapolation that these foods could increase the risk of obesity and Alzheimer’s disease would be accurate, but whole wheat lowers type 2 diabetes risk. Whole grains were found to lower the risk by 21 percent. (7)
Refined and highly processed foods DO raise the glycemic index of many foods and, thus, could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. In a meta-analysis of 16 studies evaluating the effects of grains on diabetes, researchers found that whole grains lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes, but refined grains did not. (6) In another study, a diet of processed and refined foods including refined grains increased the risk of type 2 diabetes. (7)
It is a stretch to use studies that have linked refined wheat to a higher glycemic index and say that whole wheat increased the risk of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and obesity. There is a big difference there!
High-Gluten Diet Linked to Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
As you may have noticed, I have been writing about the growing body of evidence suggesting that there are inherent risks of going on a gluten-free diet if you do not have celiac disease. For the 98% of the population NOT diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, celiac disease or a wheat allergy, going on a gluten-free diet might actually do more harm than good.
In a 2017 Harvard study evaluating the diets of almost 200,000 adults for some 30 years from 1984 to 2013, the results were striking. In this study, in the participants who were in the highest range of gluten intake (around 12 grams of gluten per day), a 13 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes was observed. (3,4)
The average intake of gluten was about 6.5 grams a day, and those who ate less than 4 grams of gluten per day had the highest rates of type 2 diabetes.
Weight gain with higher gluten intake was also measured, but no significant relationship was found between the two. The major dietary sources of gluten were pasta, cereals, pizza, muffins, pretzels, and bread. (3,4)
A combination of 60 years of processed foods along with chemicals and pesticides that kill the microbes that manufacture digestive enzymes in our mouth, stomach, small and large intestines have greatly compromised our digestive systems.
Avoiding these foods and rebuilding digestive strength are key to our optimal health and longevity.